Black Tie Ensemble

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Black Tie Ensemble (BTE) was an independent South African opera company established in 1999 by Neels Hansen and Mimi Coertse.

The company later rebranded as BTE VO1SS in 2012, and as Gauteng Opera in 2013.

Black Tie Ensemble (BTE)


When PACT Opera at the State Theatre in Pretoria ceased to exist as a permanent opera company in 1997, a need arose to develop a programme to educate talented young singers from diverse cultural backgrounds and expose them to the professional opera stage in South Africa and abroad. In order to fill this need, the Black Tie Ensemble was established in 1999 by South Africa‟s diva Mimi Coertse, acclaimed singer of international stature, and the renowned South African opera director and costume designer, Neels Hansen. This unique programme was aimed at developing all talented young singers who were interested in performing Western art music, especially opera, and to create work in order to generate income for the singers on a continuous basis.

During the first year of BTE‟s existence, singers were identified and invited to form the core of the group. Younger singers such as Jonathan Boinamo, Agos Mohagi and Kaiser Nkosi, who had already had a background in music and some voice training from tertiary institutions, also joined the BTE. These singers were funded by management and private sponsors in order to undertake further vocal training with their individual singing teachers such as Emma Renzi, Eric Muller, Louis Botha, Virginia Davids and Sarita Stern.


In the beginnings of the BTE, all administrative activities were conducted from Hansen‟s apartment in Pretoria and rehearsals took place in various rehearsal venues such as at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) opera school, the State Theatre and private venues. From 2001 until 2011, the State Theatre allowed BTE to rehearse and perform at the theatre complex as BTE's permanent residence.

Through corporate entertainment, concert series and school tours, the BTE started to build a support system of funding. The BTE initially received R60,000 from Nedbank in the first year of their existence before securing a further R230,000 from Nedbank over a period of three consecutive years. Other sponsors, such as ABSA, Nedbank Investment Bank, Investec and later SAPPI, SASOL, the Royal Bafokeng Holdings, Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) and the National Lottery Trust Fund were involved in the funding of the BTE.

The BTE management created opportunities for the singers to generate their own income through a number of performances at the Kloppenheim Country Estate near Machadadorp and monthly dinner concerts presented by the Mazzone family of Ristorante Ritrovo in Pretoria. With these concerts they initiated an innovative sponsoring scheme, Adopt an Artist, whereby individuals or companies could adopt an artist, with the result that the adopted artists received a fixed monthly allowance which enabled financial support for housing, as well as travelling costs to rehearsals.

Further sponsorship came from the Sunday newspaper, Rapport, the Royal Bafokeng Holdings, the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) in 2006 for the Incubator Scheme and R5 million from the National Lottery in 2010.

The Incubator Scheme

The Incubator Scheme was initiated in 2002 with funding from NEDCOR and developed into one of the most valuable projects to assist young opera singers with no formal training. Through training and by gaining experience these young singers could become part of the Black Tie Ensemble in future. Members hailed from various parts of South Africa and were between the ages of 18- 23. During their three-year apprenticeship these young singers received all the necessary practical classes and tuition to develop as opera singers.

Students received in–house training by professional lecturers in music theory, piano, singing, stage history, performance and languages (such as Italian, German and French). Singing lecturers included Eric Muller, Emma Renzi, Antoinette Olivier, Louis Botha and Lionel Mkwanazi.

This scheme was supported by corporate sponsorship, by individual sponsorship as in the Adopt an Artist scheme and by the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) and the Royal Bafokeng Holdings.

Outreach programmes

In 2000, school visits were introduced to towns in Limpopo province (Polokwane), North West Province (Potchefstroom) and Gauteng. Official funding from the Royal Bafokeng Holdings in 2003 extended these school tours to Phokeng.

Outreach programmes also assisted in the training of choir conductors by professional conductors.

Black Tie Ensemble Vocal Opera One Stop Shop - BTE VO1SS

In 2012, Black Tie Ensemble rebranded as BTE VO1SS (pronounced 'Voice', an acronym for 'Vocal Opera One Stop Shop') with Marcus Desando as Artistic Director. The rebrand was to allow for a more diverse company, featuring two groups of singing, namely a classical singing group and a lighter musical group – enabling them to still nourish opera while accommodating the demand for other styles.

Gauteng Opera

In 2013, Black Tie Ensemble was renamed Gauteng Opera.

For more information, see Gauteng Opera.


2001: Rigoletto

2002: Madama Butterfly (April and November)

2004: La Bohème

2005: A Tribute to Mario Lanza, Gianni Schicchi and Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Lucia di Lammermoor

2006: Four Opera Vignettes (extracts from Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Don Pasquale and L’elisir d’amore)


'Gauteng Opera'. National Arts Council website.

Antoinette Johanna Olivier. 2014. 'Exploring contributions to opera by The Black Tie Ensemble: a historical case study'. Mini-dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree Master‟s in Music at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University.

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